Empire Speaks Out
edited by Ilya Gerasimov, Jan Kusber, and Alexander Semyonov
Historians habitually write about empires that expand, wage wars, and collapse, as if empires were self-evident and self-conscious entities with a distinct and clear sense of purpose. The stories of empires are told in the language of modern nation-centred social sciences: multi-cultural and heterogeneous empires of the past appear either as huge “nations” with a common language, culture, and territory, or as amalgamations of would-be nations striving to gain independence. Empire Speaks Out reconstructs the historical encounter of the Russian Empire of the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries with the complex challenge of modernity. It does so by taking the self-awareness of empire seriously, and by looking into how bureaucrats, ideologues, politicians, scholars, and modern professionals described the ethnic, cultural, and social diversity of the empire. “Empire” then reveals itself not through deliberate and well-conceived actions of some mysterious political body, but as a series of “imperial situations” that different people encounter and perceive in common categories. The rationalization of previously intuitive social practices as imperial languages is the central theme of the collection.
This book is published with support from Volkswagen Foundation, within the collective research project “Languages of Self Description and Representation in the Russian Empire”